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Moral progress has happened not because of, but in spite of woke activism

People who have enabled falsehoods and abuse cannot take credit for civilisational advances

It must be a nightmare being too woke for your own good. There you are, simply wanting a better, more equal world for everyone and before you know it, you’ve ended up endorsing the sterilisation of autistic children, feminists being hounded out of their jobs and male rapists in women’s prisons. Still, at least you’re not a bigot, unlike every single person who warned you that this might happen.  

Ever since the Cass Review was published, it has been fascinating to see the different ways in which those who have been complicit in causing tremendous harm to some of the most vulnerable children have sought to explain themselves. There’s the Ruth Hunt tactic of claiming to have always been against this sort of thing (it was obviously another Ruth Hunt, who happened to share the same body, who was in charge of Stonewall until 2019). Then there’s the “poor research methodology” approach taken by people who think a degree in, say, German literature makes you more of an expert in medicine than a former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (I have a degree in German Literature. It doesn’t). 

We’ve witnessed variations on “yes, there’s a problem with telling children they’re born in the wrong body, but the people who first mentioned it didn’t mention it nicely enough, which cause so much toxicity that nice people were unable to mention it nicely” (take a bow, Wes Streeting). Alternatively, there’s “the people who mentioned it first were right, but only accidentally so — because they’re mean — whereas I followed the evidence and am right for the right reasons” (cheers, Gillian Keegan). 

I thought I had seen them all, then happened upon an article by the Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff. Called  “‘Woke’ isn’t dead – it’s entered the mainstream”, it is an attempt to downplay the scandal by demanding we view it in the context of a big old package of “woke” views, most of which are good. Sure, the Cass Review conclusions might look bad — but what about solving racism? Fighting sexism? What about ending actual transphobia? “It is radicalism that initially breaks down doors,” she writes. Meaning, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Or in this case, you can’t bring about a liberal utopia without wrecking the health of a few children, hand-waving the trauma of a few rape victims, destroying the careers of a few whistleblowers. Perhaps more than a few, but anyhow, isn’t it worth it? Don’t you care about the bigger picture? 

By wokeism “going mainstream”, what Hinsliff appears to mean is that any general cultural shift towards kindness and inclusivity is thanks to those who boldly declared themselves to be on the right side of history, even if some of them took things a little too far. It is as though after years of trans activists telling the mildest critics that they are homophobic white supremacists who deserve to die in a fire, those who stood by and did nothing have earned the right to pat themselves on the back. Because look, do you see any homophobic white supremacists in your workplace? No? Then thank a wokeist (but don’t mention Hilary Cass). 

Trans extremism monstered some of the most well-meaning people

It is, I’ll be honest, rather hard to swallow. Trans extremism monstered some of the most well-meaning people — left-wing feminists, LGB rights heroes — and insisted that anyone who voiced the slightest concerns was a member of the far right, perhaps even funded by them. And now we are expected to treat the myth — that any nice, kind, anti-racist, anti-sexist person would have gone along with this — as though it is true. Those who lacked the moral fibre and critical faculties to call out what was happening in plain sight now seek to recast their behaviour as a kind of goodness overreach. We are meant to believe that the same “kindness” that led to gender questioning children being placed on irreversible medical pathways has also led to an overall reduction in bigotry and a greater acceptance of difference. So really, when you think about it, it all balances out. 

One example Hinsliff uses is the fact that although “the tide … is visibly turning against a particular strand of trans activism, leaving tough lessons to be learned about the kind of scolding tone … that can be fatal to progressive causes”, the general public were not keen on “Rishi Sunak taunting Keir Starmer over trans rights, on the day that the mother of the murdered trans teenager Brianna Ghey visited parliament”. This, she writes, “suggests there is still broad public sympathy for trans people themselves”. 

Leaving aside the absurd coyness of “scolding tone” (is it really what you would call this?), I would argue that people feeling empathy for the mother of a murdered teenager is not something to add to the Team Woke scorecard. Most people do not need lessons in pronoun etiquette in order to know what a terrible loss Ghey’s death was. Most people have a degree of basic humanity already. The idea that woke extremists have managed to drag the unfeeling masses towards some middle ground of base level decency — albeit by overstepping the mark themselves — is as offensive as it is ridiculous. 

It is not that I disagree with us seeing a nicer, kinder society for all. It has been claimed that while many of those who first called out trans extremism might nominally come from progressive backgrounds, “terfism” is a gateway to all manner of unprogressive views. A decade into being deemed a TERF (and still waiting for my far-right subsidies), I would say this is partly because the moment you challenge people who lie about biological sex, you are accused of being a white supremacist anyways. Partly, though, it is because while your own views might not change, you become more mistrustful of those who appear to agree with you on everything but the trans issue. 

When people appear to have bought all their views as a job lot package … I struggle to be convinced that anything they say comes from the heart

If such people believe it is necessary to lie in order to treat trans people with dignity, are they lying about other marginalised groups, too? Is it all about tribalism and badges, rather than any genuine conviction that all humans are valuable? Do they really think gay people, women, migrants, have just as much to offer, or is it just something one says to be nice? When people appear to have bought all their views as a job lot package, ignoring the odd blatant lie that’s been tossed in along with the truths, I struggle to be convinced that anything they say comes from the heart. 

If we truly are moving towards a society in which people are kinder to those who are different, it will not be because a minority of self-styled empaths spent the past decade ignoring abuses that were taking place right in front of their eyes. It will be in spite of them. Any new-found generosity we see around us is not a version of woke extremism “with the sharp edges smoothed off”. It’s a generosity that was always available, not least amongst the activists and whistleblowers who were vilified for years. It’s just sad that so many “progressives” were shouting too loudly to hear them.

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